Potts makes a move at Morrisons

David Potts CEO Morrisons plc Image: uk.anygator.com

David Potts
CEO Morrisons plc
Image: uk.anygator.com

Supermarket chain Morrisons has been in the news a lot the past few years, but for all the wrong reasons. Having grown solidly to a FTSE 100 company in 2001, its leaders have struggled to continue the success. Of critical significance here were Ken Morrison’s expansive (and expensive) acquisition of Safeways plus their late entry into on-line shopping.

The latest ‘saviour’ is Tesco veteran, David Potts. In a few short months he has:

  • Bought £1 million’s worth of shares for himself
  • Removed 5 (now 6) of the company’s directors
  • Abandoned an unpopular queue management system
  • Instructed all Head Office staff to spend time in the shops
  • Put 750 of them on notice of redundancy
  • Opened feedback channels to staff
  • (And as a result, changed the in-store music playlist)
  • Increased the number of staffed express checkouts
  • Reduced the reliance on self-scan checkouts
  • Spent his Easter working in stores
  • Warned that his is a three-year project.

As a leader, he has the luxury of a ‘burning platform’ i.e. reducing customers, profit and reputation. At the same time, he has the support of the Chairman; another Tesco veteran; and his appointment was applauded by a number of City analysts. Clearly, he is the man of the moment.

Of course, the proof of his worth will be the results over the next three years. However, as an example of leadership, his approach illustrates how a few strong messages can be communicated through actions rather than words. The strategy is clearly to re-engage with customers and staff and to simplify the management structure.

Few organisations manage to listen; that is, really listen, to their customers let alone their staff. Even Potts’ training ground, Tesco, heard what they wanted to in the US, and finally had to withdraw after significant losses. So it will be interesting to see if Potts manages to sustain the momentum after his honeymoon period.

In the meantime, his actions should challenge all in leadership positions to ask of themselves:

What am I doing to communicate our business priorities and how am I demonstrating my commitment to them?

Too many leaders make strategic presentations and circulate videoed messages; and then think that is enough without considering the action required to reinforce the messages.

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2 comments

  1. An interesting and informative read as usual Mike. I think it has to be said that Potts main strength is also that having seen the video and worn the T shirt, he knew what success looked like and the levers to pull!
    Dalton was hardly so well equipped, and following in the old boys very firm and autocratic style was never going to be an easy act to follow. There is very little more challenging than integration, and very few that have the skill to pull it off!

    Having the backing and support of a friendly Chairman is of course a healthy start! He after all is ultimately the man responsible to the shareholders.

  2. Spot on Peter – he certainly came with an excellent pedigree – and having fallen out with his ex boss at Tesco must know the importance of a supportive team around him. It’ll be an interesting journey to watch.

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